The rhino ran up the stairs and out into another instantly silenced environment. The humankind stopped unkindly, stared. He could go back, but couldn’t. Wherever he’d already been was too aware, curious and too eager to catch hold of him. He could only charge on.
He bolted, without thinking of where there was to go. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere, however, was a better place than the spiteful somewhere he had come from. Nowhere was a better, much better place. And worth fighting for.
So it was head down, horn up, blowing and bellowing down the alley-ways of people. He shoved them all aside, wheelchairs, beds on wheels, straight and crooked people alike. They blurred his eyesight into a red and white flurry, angry and afraid, red and white.
A man shouted almost into his face. He thrashed, casting the men and their metal machinery aside. A scream! A crash! Ryan thrashed. Water spilled splashing from the walls, cups and glasses smashing.
Ryan steamed, screamed through, a rhinoceros tipping aside a plains-jeep full of nasty riflemen and flash photographers. A man’s grasping hands were quite suddenly on him, trying to hold him back. The rhino thrashed free, its hard horn striking home into something fleshy and soft. Almost everything felt fleshier, softer than the horn. There was a grunt of pain, but not from horn-hard Ryan, running flat-footed across the open plain with another great white hunter hard in pursuit.
He, the rhinoceros, plunged through another doorway and down the well of a second staircase. His pursuer was left way behind as Ryan took the steps down three at a time. His ivory-toed, numb feet looked separated from him, thundering under like the hooves of another beast altogether.
Down he dashed, and down. The stairwell seemed to drip with moss and dank plant life. The lighting changed, dimming as down he plunged, deeper and cold, into a strange semi-lit underworld of pipes and trays full of squirming black wires and little trapped lights in bowls along the wall.
The beast had lost its bearings. The red floors and dirty white walls told of a directionless purpose that was not Ryan’s. His purpose was unknown here, lost in the dense basement as wet and as cold tears. And totally alone.
Great brute tanks coated in fat white cladding displayed fearful dials. Somewhere a furnace clicked and lighted.
The Ryan-beast stared at the sound.
Then turned at another sound. Footsteps sounded loud on the stairs somewhere behind. The beast started, ran on in the wrong direction. Between the tanks he ran with no sense, with no direction but this one, running into a tangle of pipes and dials and pumps and taps. He ran forward at the tangle in front, turned against the tanks on one side and on the other. He turned and turned, the whole dreadful twisted squirms of glass and metal, the sides of the tanks, bellying out in a claustrophobic cage with only one way out. The way he had just come.
The beast turned.
Footsteps approached its only exit.
The beast’s back arched. The horned head went down. The eyes blazed, mad. Ready to charge, to barge its way – the only way – out.
She flew down the stairs after him. He was mad – Danni had heard that man saying so. But she didn’t need to hear him say it. She knew he was mad. He’d been driven to it, she also knew, like an animal being whipped into a pen. That’s where her brother was running to, she knew. She’d seen the fury of it in him as he’d spiralled downstairs too far. At this depth, the basement ducts and pipes swirled like brain matter round the walls and across the ceilings. This far below, as deep down as it was possible for Ryan to go, the unseen madness way below the normal is seen, curly and wet, twitching and cringing, its nerves laid out for all who look to see.
Dan walked carefully between the subterranean grey-matter of a seemingly sane world. Up above, far above, in the squeaky-soled corridors, medicine set about the job of nursing, caring for the many but explicable ailments. Here though, the insane whirl of pump and pipe held hard a captive furiousness that wanted only to bend and break and escape. Dan turned the corner and saw him captured there in another cruel cage.
He was out of his mind. Furious with fear and outraged with shame, his beastly head sank, prepared to charge. Dan prepared herself to be charged. She took up all the space she could. There was only one way out.
‘You’re going to have to go straight through me,’ she told the animal. ‘You’re going to have to hurt me. I don’t care.’